When we melt together

When we melt together

Italian painter Viviana Riccelli, currently based in the magical island of Siquijor, ushers us into Galleria Duemila where her new abstract paintings, collectively titled “Chaos,” are being exhibited until April 13. 

When we melt together
“The Beginning of a Journey”

The exhibition welcomes us with a diptych, The Beginning of a Journey, mixed media on carton board on paper in which the field of vision animates a color interaction of overlapping patches appearing like a collage, shifting between the top or side view perspectives. With such possibilities, the work also dares to achieve various figural shapes of arcades, mounds, geographical hill terrains, and, at the same time, a body that may be lying on the ground, surrounded by greenery smothered by a fading light blue at the center. The figural body appears as if cradled by the ground with nature’s expanse as the body’s background. 

This work captures our relationship with nature beyond the frame of landscapes; it is a haptic experience in which we become sheltered by the ground, making the natural environment, apart from being an economic resource, a dwelling place for rest, recovery, and relaxation.  

Cosmic energy

With the figural body stretched on the ground, the imagination that dwells in such a work provides the cue for the curation to lead us to a documentary film commissioned to JR Dalisay on Riccelli’s art production. In this work, we see from Riccelli’s filmic presence someone who seems to have found a cradle in her humble hut in the heart of Siquijor’s forest, cinematically unraveling her artistic instincts with the paint from the tube sliding through the breadth of the canvases, and looking enthralled by the luminous skies framed by her veranda. 

Moving in such a curatorial arrangement, we can press the pulse throbbing across the paintings, the documentary film, and the biographical account of her current artistic practice. With such triangulation, the chaos that conceptually frames this exhibition may also lead us to imagine the cosmic energy of the current place where she allows her artistic habitation to nestle, grow, and meld.

Perhaps, the energy of the cosmic world Riccelli basks in would be at once abstract and concrete as her vision of chaos materializes through the collectivity that she admires, such as the people. This formation of people plays a great interest for the artist; they take center stage in an acrylic on canvas board, People, where the presence of human bodies signifies like waves of flames, conflagrating in the foreground yet tempered by a clear skyline with the curves, crests, and mounds that expose its deep-seated earthly tones, dark ridges, and layers of soil formation, which serve as the bedrock supporting the intense depiction of human movement. We get to see that the collective of people would not be autonomous, and in a state of exceptionalism, but always framed and tempered by the energy embodied by nature. 

When we melt together
“The Doubt”

It is an observation that may be also reinforced in works like The Doubt and The Talk. People across these works turn the ecology as the force field that ushers naturally the movement of the human flow towards the vanishing point of destiny, and in their respective sojourns, human bodies morph into brushstrokes of light, energy, and intensity, making such a collective scale not only a mere body count but also the bearers of light. 

Is there magic?

However, while light may also be viewed as the source of energy—and in the case of visual art, painting is known to function as a manipulation of light—how does light also serve as the source of energy in the cosmic world of Siquijor, especially within the practice of art production? Does light become relevant in an artist’s imagination and creativity? Perhaps, for an artist working in an island known to be the dwelling place of enchantment and poverty, is there magic? How does light also function and appear in the realm of abstract art for an artist like Riccelli, who has moved from Italy, to the African continent, and then finally to the Philippines, in Dumaguete and Siquijor, which are places known to have experienced the heat of the sun as the primary source of light? How do these places perhaps inform her artworks and our understanding of the genre where she becomes visible, especially that she could have been influenced by places known to have relied on the energy of their respective vast workforces? 

When we melt together
“Rising from the Gourge”

The easiest answer would be, through the work Rising from the Gourge, the energy would always be the wave and lugubrious nature of light that this work captures, especially through a bodily figure, which explodes and undulates into ripples, splashes, and drippings, appearing divine. This bodily figure is situated on top of layers that morph into planks, and rectangular patterns that, while being intermittently disrupted by the seeming oscillating nature of energy, are eventually released in the form of ripples and light waves. 

Yet with the explosion from the depths of the “gourge,” such light is precisely released from itself for it has the propensity to be repressive and, in the long run, oppressive to itself, instead of waiting for such body to implode in its interior world—a kind of insight that percolates in Riccelli’s memories, whether from her travels, her worldview, and personal insights into the quotidian nature of life. Perhaps, in releasing such light from the containment enabled by the gourge, as we draw from Alice Barnaby, it can also be interpreted as Riccelli’s “practice of illumination” in a world dominated by harrowing darkness, which dawns on us “upon the surface of ourselves and all that we encounter.”  

Light and darkness

Yet, of course, Riccelli never pontificates of herself as an artist and a migrant to our part of the world. She brims with light as she looks at the order of things with a great sense of humility. Through The Horizon is Far, an acrylic on canvas that turns the distance of the road measured by the temporality of a sunset, extending itself on the ground while being captured from the frame of a cavernous arch, the perspective eventually becoming densely layered by intersecting lines that dramatize terrains, slopes, and heights. 

The appearance of dusk in this work characterizes, on the one hand, a dusty, empty, and perhaps arid landscape. On the other hand, its emptiness allows us to see the temporal duration of the day as the sun sets, illuminating the kinship of light with darkness, whether as contrasts or oppositions. In this work, the horizon that we normally feel enthralled with as landscape art also signifies the index that scales our ambitions to own and make the world; emphasizing its expansiveness may also be the distance we fantasize to traverse. Unfortunately, precisely because it is a fantasy, the distance illuminated by the sunset from the cave viewpoint measures our human ability to inhabit the world, especially with the configurations and geographic conditions of the land, including the time afforded by the turning of the day. 

“The Soul Tree”

By recognizing our inherent limits, The Soul Tree makes us imagine the inherent life, power, and energy of nature. This work refuses to illustrate the natural environment from a touristic gaze; instead, it summons its inherent folkloric charge through the spectral white strokes splayed across the canvas, while being interrupted by the horizontal file of soft, tender lineaments. With the lines dispersed across the surface, the dense dark background is superimposed on and canopied by luminous green foliage-looking patches where, in some pockets, the figural images of a leaf, a body, and a folkloric figure frame the white specter branching out from the center. 

The light, in this case, also comes with the form, an insight drawn from Riccelli, which allows her to approach her work, the subjects, and. perhaps, the dynamics of memories, experiences, evolving styles, and places she visited. This point leads us to appreciate her act of abstracting the world as a virtue of making what she describes as “overlapping realities” into something palpable, and, perhaps, as our unrealized second nature. 


As we are folded into the world of nature, it can also mean a form of inhabiting an ontology in which we live with the crisis of modern man that Riccelli’s work, The Magicians and the Sun, illustrates as a critique of modernity. We can recognize the sunlight gushing from the center down to the borders of the canvas, while also morphing into seemingly hard and solid frames, which she also describes as metals being melted by the heat, along with the interruptions from heavy dark brushstrokes, arches, and curves. The dynamics of the details of the work foreground the splintering of a vast rouge-like surface, making everything tattered by the brightness that seems to blast from the center. 

Seeing the ruptures in Riccelli’s abstraction, one may construe this work as also a form of wrestling with a lifeworld in which what prevails is what Marshall Berman calls the “maelstrom of modern life” that evolves and insists to be the nature of the modern world. 

Apparently, such disorder is also where the solid foundations, pillars, and infrastructures of the modern world are exposed by Berman as melting in our atmosphere until they waft away. With this nature of the matter in the world conjured by Riccelli, Melting Together is a work that puts to the fore a yellow sunlight yoked by two other primary colors, red and blue, which both appear as drippings, a net of strokes, occupying either angle of the frame, laying out a stretch of gradation, making the edge of the frame deepest in color, but also receding as these angles extend until they fade into one another. 

The work captures a whirlpool that illuminates a melting process that does not lead to a dissolution or a tragic meltdown. Instead, the melting process is an abstraction of personhood that animates the vitality within a chaotic experience where energy is displayed but, at the same time, true to its nature, is an “abstract thing,” as Richard Feynman describes it. The melting that this painting visualizes is also the veracity of the state of being of energy whenever one moves and translates oneself into a potential state of matter. 

‘Fever dream’

Perhaps, the pulse of our present state may be felt by the curator of Vargas Museum at the University of the Philippines, Diliman: Tessa Maria Guazon, who currently depicts the contemporary world in a “fever dream” as exemplified in the form of burning forests, plagues, etc. The fever in such a dream also invites us to recognize how we are embodying the planet’s burning heat that may only lead us to a collective melting. In a sense, the transition from solid to liquid may be deemed as a cultural translation of all the concreteness in the world into something liquified and abstract, and this also proves what Cymene Howe and others believe the sun’s “influence and its interference, its effects in the moment and over time, extended,” unraveling our present as in a state of “solarity.” 

Yet through how the light from above radiates upon us, Howe and other scholars have recognized that “the sun [appears] in everyone, everything,” and through this continuum of light, we get to receive the light from talent, imagination, creativity and, certainly, the pains, sufferings, and challenges of Riccelli. 

We get to share with her the energy, and specifically, as she describes it, the “power” of nature which is lighted upon by the sun burning brightly in Siquijor. Through the pleasure we derive from her exhibition, we melt with Riccelli and all the colors that wash away the emptiness of her canvas surfaces.

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